By Donovan Westover
Prior to the 2016 holidays, I had the opportunity to visit the 1974 Mitchell House at 2717 Conflans Road in Irving. I owe Allie Beth Allman listing agent, Richard Waite a huge apology for my glacial progress as the holidays and life got in the way. As fate would have it, a substantial price drop ($895,000 to $749,000) gives me a second wind to write about this iconic Prairie-style home.
Peppered in the hundreds of thousands of tan stucco boxes in Phoenix, there is a collection of world-class architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright. The assemblage includes a handful of private residences, the Arizona Biltmore Hotel (1929), First Christian Church (1949), Grady Gammage Auditorium (1964) at Arizona State University (Go Sun Devils!) as well as Taliesin West (1937), Wrights’ former winter home and now, namesake School of Architecture.
Wright’s Usonian style underlines siting and designing for the environment, and then organically inviting the setting inside. In preparation for my writing, I nerdily dragged a couple of friends (while home at Christmastime) for their premiere look at First Christian Church, which they will remember. Dallas is fortunate to have Wright’s designed Gillin House (1958) and the Kalita Humphreys Theatre (1959) in its architectural library. Wright designed a Nonesuch Lane home for Stanley Marcus, which was not built due to a budget disagreement.
In visiting the Mitchell House, I had an opportunity to explore the work of Wright’s protégé, W. Kelly Oliver, whose Usonian influence was abundant. Situated on a vast and secure lot, the house encircles a 3,500-square-foot interior courtyard and entering (what you believe to be) the front door, you are transported into another world. Think Prairie- style architecture framing a Polynesian resort — seriously.
Landscape architect Naud Burnett’s geometric salt water pool/fountain design immediately grabs your attention as you walk over it and descend onto the enveloping courtyard via a foot bridge. This is only the beginning of the stunning use of wood craftsmanship which embellishes exterior elements from the ground up to the soffits, at which point cedar planking is invited to continue throughout the ceilings inside the house. Floor-to-ceiling glass curtains both courtyard and outer walls throughout what is essentially a single-room-deep, natural light-infused square donut. Many of these glass panels open and the cross breeze invites the rustle of bamboo and trickling of water inside.
Walking through the actual front door, the distinctive interiors unfold with detail so precise and proportionate that you can practically envision Wright shaking his finger until suitable selections were made. The massive (some 64 feet long) Douglas fir ceiling beams that persuade each space were specially ordered from Oregon and endured a train wreck on their way to Texas. Now they endure perfect intersections of wood plank ceilings and clerestory windows that disappear beautifully as your eyes are drawn to views outside the glass walls. Every space in this house considers natural light, including the department store-size master closet, and woodwork is remarkably sunlit.
As you can see, the house is super intact, which I personally favor, and has been very well maintained. However, not everybody shares my vision, and with the listing reduction, there is money for updates to this significant house. I am attached to Oak Cliff, but would consider Irving to call this Prairie-style resort my home. If not me, I believe the wright person will come along.